By Debby Critchley, Food Editor
Are there words for amazing? Yes. You will reach for many words to describe “amazing” at The Sushi Bar in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, located at 2312 Mt. Vernon Ave.
At first it seems an anomaly in Del Ray – no children allowed, but they have modified that restriction by now offering “Monday night family dinner night” where children are welcome.
Start with the Sake.
Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo was a sparkling sake surprise.I suggest you try some of the sake flights to experience the range of tastes available. We tried four that were among manager Jake’s favorites. The first, Sayuri, a Nigori Sake, is a filtered, creamy looking, cold sake on the sweet side with a decidedly fruity flavor. The second, a nomazake (raw delight) Sho Chiku Bai Nama, was clear and refreshing. It was the favorite of most at the table. Served in small bottles, nama packs a big taste. My favorite was the Sho Une Junmai Dai Ginja. A more refined taste, it was fresh with a punch. Our final sampling was a remarkable sparkling sake, Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo. This was our first experience with a sparkling sake and it was extremely positive. If you are celebrating, try a bottle – it’s a truly likable glass.
Sake not your Ochoko (cup) of choice? The Sushi bar offers a wide variety of wine choices by the glass or bottle and an interesting assortment of Asian beers. Ask your server or bartender to choose one to your liking.
Fresh Market Finds
Chef Bin Zhao serves only the freshest fish that he finds at his daily search of the local seafood markets. Take advantage of the specials which reflect his market finds. We benefited from his creativity with a serving of green shell mussels topped with scallop, oyster truffle oil, spicy mayo, and a thin slice of watermelon radish – all lightly baked. Not only was it a feast for the eyes, it was an exciting bite with a touch of heat and richness.
We were served the Salmon Tataki and Sweet Shrimp. Both feature the result of Chef Bin’s search for the freshest ingredients. The flavor of the salmon was beyond what we are so used to from grocery store sushi. The fish was tender to the point of creaminess. As to the Sweet Shrimp, if it is available, order it. Aptly named, there was a rich shrimp flavor with a hint of sweetness, topped with salmon roe.
The dish of nigiri sushi included surf clam, spicy toro, California uni, and mackerel. Each piece reflects the care of Chef Bin and his helpers. You can taste the quality of the seafood in each piece. Just a dip in the soy and wasabi transports you to the ocean. Clean your palate with a bite of the white pickled ginger from Japan. The Del Ray roll is a fun combination of spicy tuna and avocado topped with seared tuna and jalapeno and topped with spicy mayo, eel sauce, and tempura bits.
The Rainbow roll is loaded with tuna, salmon, shrimp, avocado and fish roe, topping a California roll. Both are yummy. The softshell crab roll goes beyond the classic with a filling of cucumber, asparagus, softshell tempura, and tempura bits topped with a sweet black pepper sauce and creamy tataki. The smoked salmon roll with cream cheese is velvety and full of flavor. Our final fishy bites were both works of beauty and flavor. A quail egg quivered on the top of a tobiko flying fish roe) filled bite. Lusciousness was over the top.
The unagi (eel) nigiri was a superior bite of one of my favorites. The yellowtail belly nigiri was full of freshness and flavor.
Try their dessert.
Jake brought us dessert. The special sweet treat of the day was toasted Japanese rolls filled with black sesame and honey ginger ice creams. We loved both flavors but the black sesame ice cream was the winner. We could eat bowlfuls of either.
Finish your meal with another glass of sparkling or fruit-infused sake. It’s a perfect finish to a perfect meal. The Sushi Bar is a lovely gem of a restaurant in Del Ray. It is a charming and small eatery that can easily become a favorite of yours. Open up your taste buds and choose from their daily specials and more uncommon choices. You will find yourself loving every bite.
The restaurant is small, seating just 30-35 people. The bar is a popular seating area and can get a bit loud. Seating in the back near the sushi counter is quieter. There are no reservations so you may want to come on Tuesday through Thursday before 6:30 pm. Happy hour runs from 5:00-7:00 pm, Sunday through Friday when specially priced classic rolls and beverages are available.
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